The Conservative Baptist Network has released a 40-page report on what it calls “The Evidences of Concern Within the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The document seeks to bolster CBN’s claim that the SBC has fallen into liberalism, embraces Critical Race Theory and is bowing to “woke” culture.
These allegations would be laughable if the CBN folks weren’t so dead serious. Reading this report will make you feel sorry for the six SBC seminary presidents and the silliness they have to endure — even if you think they are silly themselves.
Nothing new here
There is nothing new in this report. It is, instead, a poorly constructed rehash of a mishmash of concerns perpetuated by those who remain on the outside of the SBC’s inner circle and want desperately to be in control.
The issues articulated here have been themes of the SBC’s internal opposition group since its founding. The ultra-conservative network has tried unsuccessfully to get its candidates elected to leadership roles in the SBC for the past three years.
Its agenda and membership overlap with another older group, Founders Ministries, which is a collection of SBC Calvinists. Once considered a fringe group in the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination, Calvinists in recent years have grown in number and in influence in the denomination. But they still have not been able to take control of the denomination and return it to the age of the Puritans.
“That is not enough for the CBN crowd, whose agenda closely parallels that of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.”
The SBC already is a conservative place by any outside measure — staunchly opposing abortion, eschewing women as pastors and holding to a literal interpretation of the Bible as the “inerrant” word of God. But that is not enough for the CBN crowd, whose agenda closely parallels that of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.
“In recent years, Southern Baptists have found themselves increasingly divided, which has played itself out in almost every area of denominational life,” begins an introduction to the CBN report. “Many of these tensions came to a head following the 2019 annual meeting in Birmingham where Resolution 9 was adopted.”
That resolution concerned Critical Race Theory and fears that SBC seminaries are teaching the legal academic theory that now has become a flashpoint nationwide and shorthand for fears about how American history is taught. Specifically, “CRT” as it is known in brief, has been blamed for teaching white children they are inherently racists.
Such “liberal” ideas are linked to the SBC’s declining rates of baptisms, church plants and offerings, the CBN report charges.
In fact, multiple other independent researchers have shown the very attitudes espoused by CBN are the reason people are leaving Christian churches.
Echoes of Pressler and Patterson
Nevertheless, the language used by CBN leaders today echoes the language used by Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson as they launched the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC in 1979. That movement led to a schism that by 2000 drove out most “moderate” or “liberal” churches and members from the SBC — leaving the denomination a vastly more conservative place.
Pressler and Patterson spoke of grassroot “concerns” being ignored by arrogant and elitist denominational leaders.
The introduction to the CBN report released this week says the “concerns” documented within “arise from deeply held convictions of thousands of everyday Baptists — pastors and church laymen alike — who care deeply for the Southern Baptist Convention and the message of the gospel that takes precedence over our desire to avoid difficult discussions. These individuals feel their concerns are not being heard as they watch the SBC continue down the leftward path previously navigated by every other mainline denomination.”
It continues with vague specificity: “Many feel that we have remained quiet for too long. We have at times been apathetic and even complacent regarding these matters, but our consciences will allow that no longer. Where any of us have been lax in this regard, we must repent of failing to raise these concerns sooner. In our current cultural climate, each and every Southern Baptist must bear the responsibility of delivering a conservative, biblically healthy, and strong Baptist convention to our children and our children’s children.”
“The Southern Baptist Convention is in crisis. Conservatives must reengage.”
The paper itself was compiled by Klayton Carson, a student at Mid-America Baptist Seminary in Memphis, whose Twitter page identifies him as an “Old Landmarkist | Dispy | Revivalist | Fantasy Baseball Champion x2 | Just a Preacher | The Bible, Alone.”
The first paragraph of the report concludes: “The Southern Baptist Convention is in crisis. Conservatives must reengage.”
As evidence of this crisis, the report focuses on Critical Race Theory, the role of women in the church, LGBTQ issues and last year’s SBC report on sexual abuse.
In short, the CBN position is that the sexual abuse crisis in the SBC has been vastly overblown and isn’t nearly as bad as it has been portrayed. The report states: “Sexual misconduct, abuse, and/or violence should be grieved, and justice should be served in all cases, but Southern Baptists have experienced notably fewer instances of abuse than concurrent organizations.”
Critical Race Theory
On Critical Race Theory, the report accuses a range of SBC leaders and seminary professors by name of succumbing to woke ideology on slavery and racism.
For example, the report criticizes an SBC seminary professor for saying: “If you think the worst thing somebody can call you is a racist, then you’re not thinking biblically, because guess what, I’m gonna struggle with racism and white supremacy until the day I die and get my glorified body and in a completely renewed and sanctified mind. Because I am immersed in a culture where I benefit from racism all the time.”
These comments demonstrate “the influence of Critical Race Theory” on SBC seminaries, the report says.
Another conservative seminary professor is critiqued for saying: “I’m a seminary professor, and in theological education, you’re hard-pressed to find many evangelical institutions that have a regular requirement of Black and brown authors. And often, what happens is whiteness becomes the standard by which all good theology is judged.”
Again, evidence of Critical Race Theory, CBN charges.
An SBC seminary president is called out by CBN for saying this: “One of the things that white evangelicals, in particular, have got to do is become better listeners. In addition to that, we have got to be willing to surrender power, which is again not indigenous to our nature. As I often say, not only do we need to invite ethnic minorities into our room and to have a seat at the table, we even need to be willing to surrender leadership at the table if we’re really going to make progress and really help our brothers and sisters understand we see them on an equal plane with ourselves.”
This, too, is evidence of wokeness invading the SBC, the report charges.
Similar illustrations are given for page after page, ultimately leading to a rehashing of CBN members’ concerns about how the SBC handled Resolution 9 in 2019 — a compromise that was necessary to keep Black churches and pastors from departing the denomination en masse if the CBN perspective of denying structural racism had won the day.
“Because the SBC’s Resolutions Committee in 2019 and after did not do what the CBN members wanted, the SBC has been overtaken by liberalism, the report charges.”
Because the SBC’s Resolutions Committee in 2019 and after did not do what the CBN members wanted, the SBC has been overtaken by liberalism, the report charges.
Women in leadership
On the issue of women in church leadership, the report rehashes last summer’s debate about whether the largest church in the denomination — Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif. — should be expelled for ordaining women as pastors.
The fact that this was not a cut-and-dried decision but instead evoked debate and indecision is cited as evidence of liberalism taking over the SBC.
Among a litany of other concerns, the report calls out the SBC’s North American Mission Board for participating in the He Gets Us evangelistic ad campaign — an ecumenical project that asks Americans to understand the compassion and grace of Jesus Christ.
Ultra-conservatives like those affiliated with CBN believe the campaign is heretical because it “does not call people to faith and repentance, and they do not advocate that Jesus certainly lived a perfect life.”
A fake academic report
In sum, the CBN report gives the appearance of being a well-researched academic document but would easily earn a failing grade from most any accredited institution of higher learning.
“Its structure is rambling, its issues are straw men, its evidence is contradictory, and its solutions are entirely missing.”
Its structure is rambling, its issues are straw men, its evidence is contradictory, and its solutions are entirely missing.
An uninformed outsider reading this report might be persuaded the SBC is controlled by the Democratic Party and is one step away from denying the historicity of the Bible. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s SBC is one of the most extremely conservative religious groups in America.
The problem is that the CBN crowd lives in a world that is so far to the right that even the otherwise conservative SBC looks like liberals to them.
Whatever you think of the SBC and its seminaries, it’s a sure bet that any of the six of them could produce a better 40-page research paper than this.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
The SBC rebuffed its most extreme factions but remains extremely conservative | Analysis by Mark Wingfield